Law: Ensuring the best service for suspects: Barbara Lantin looks at moves to improve the role of lawyers helping detained persons - UK - News - The Independent

Law: Ensuring the best service for suspects: Barbara Lantin looks at moves to improve the role of lawyers helping detained persons

The public image of the solicitor at a police station - as seen on TV - is not a pretty one. Stupefyingly passive or alarmingly aggressive, he or she often appears to be the kind of friend a client could do without.

The truth may be quite different. But the launch of some initiatives aimed specifically at solicitors and their representatives who deal with suspects at police stations suggests that the profession is well aware of its deficiencies.

First came the unveiling earlier this year of Law Society guidelines for those advising suspects in police station interviews.

Then came news of the joint Law Society and Legal Aid Board accreditation scheme. From next February the board will not pay for advice given by a solicitor's representative in the police station unless that person is approved under the scheme or is registered with the board as a probationer.

Next year a solicitor is launching a course designed to help his fellow practitioners give a better service to detained suspects.

'On the whole, standards in this area have improved enormously over the past eight years or so,' believes Robert Roscoe, a member of the Law Society's criminal law committee.

'Questions about the role of solicitors in some well publicised cases and expressions of concern by the Lord Chief Justice have led to a great deal of work being done to get better people at police stations.'

The Law Society's guidelines come in the form of a training kit, Police Station Skills for Legal Advisers, which includes a 1,000-page book and audio cassettes. Following criticism of the passivity of solicitors at interviews in two separate submissions to the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice, the Law Society admitted that legal advisers had appeared confused about their role at the police station.

The freeing of George Heron - acquitted in October 1993 of the murder of a seven-year-old Sunderland girl after the judge described police questioning as oppressive - proved a case in point.

As a result the kit includes a chapter on how to monitor police behaviour during an interview and how to intervene when questioning becomes unacceptable. This indicates a shift of emphasis towards a more assertive and demanding approach by legal representatives to the police.

'A legal adviser in the police station must be skilled and represent the suspect fearlessly,' said Graham White, chairman of the Criminal Law Committee, at the kit's launch. 'As this pack emphasises, the adviser's role is that of defender.'

This is a view endorsed by Neil Corre, at present preparing a course for solicitors representing clients at a police station. 'A lot of solicitors are much too passive,' he says. 'They don't ask to see the custody record and they don't intervene even if the questioning gets oppressive.

'They see themselves as a kind of guest who must behave in accordance with police rules. Of course this view communicates itself to the client, who consequently does not regard the solicitor as somebody with power.

'Solicitors need to be more assertive so that the client realises that they can influence the way the client is treated in custody.'

Mr Corre, a member of five of the busiest London duty solicitor schemes and author of a book on bail, says the course could be useful to even seasoned practitioners. 'Even experienced solicitors sometimes leave the police station with the unsatisfactory feeling that they have not done all they could to protect the interests of their client,' he says.

'The reason for this is that knowledge of the law, although essential, is not enough. The solicitor needs to understand the human factors that determine what happens in the police station.'

As a result there will be a good deal of emphasis on psychology - of the relationship between police officer, suspect and solicitor, of confessions, of identification by witnesses.

'Lawyers seem reluctant to make use of other disciplines in ways that would help them achieve their proper aim of assisting their client. A knowledge of psychology is vital to carrying out that task.'

Failing to spot the vulnerable suspect who is likely to make misleading statements or perhaps a false confession is one area where even an experienced solicitor can come adrift and where some grasp of psychology can be helpful.

Research carried out for the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice suggests that there are far more people in this 'vulnerable' category than is generally assumed. They may include people with learning difficulties, the mentally ill or disturbed and people who are highly anxious for a whole range of reasons.

When Dr Gisli Gudjonsson, a forensic psychologist at the Maudsley Hospital, studied a group of suspects at police stations in South-east England, he and his colleagues found that around 20 per cent were showing extremely high levels of anxiety. The researchers considered that there were sound clinical reasons for an 'appropriate adult' to be present at the interview of 25 suspects. However, such an adult was only called in by the police in seven of the cases.

'Vulnerable people who suffer extreme distress by being detained at a police station are more liable to give misleading or unreliable information to the police, possibly falsely incriminating themselves,' Dr Gudjonsson says.

'Sometimes the uncertainty of not knowing what is going to happen to them makes them very anxious. Solicitors need to be aware of this possibility.'

Such people may make falsely self-incriminating statements for a whole raft of reasons - because they are under pressure, do not understand what is going on, actually believe they are guilty or enjoy being the centre of attention.

Dr Gudjonsson believes that the new caution, likely to come into effect next March, could well increase the scope for misunderstanding by some suspects, not only because of its length - 60 words compared with the present 22 - but because of its complexity.

'The whole concept of the new caution is very complicated - that if you remain silent it could have certain implications later. It puts a much greater burden on the solicitor because he has to be very clear in his own mind what these implications are and he has to explain this to his client.'

Apparently it is not enough for a solicitor simply to ask his client if he understands the caution. A suspect may say yes because he is too embarrassed to admit that he does not understand, or because he is not aware that he has not grasped all the possible ramifications.

'Solicitors must test out whether the suspect really understands the caution by asking him to paraphrase what it says,' Dr Gudjonsson advises.

'The really important thing,' Mr Roscoe says, 'is that solicitors never prejudge matters before they get to the police station. Each case and each client is different.

'You might advise one client to say nothing at all and another on the same case - where there was no conflict of interest, of course - to answer all the questions put to him. You must go in with an open mind and be alert to all the possibilities.'

Police Station Skills for Legal Advisers from The Law Society Shop, 227 The Strand, London WC2R 1BA.

The Law and Psychology of Advising the Suspect at a Police Station: London Legal Lectures, 081 346 8524.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum
theatre

Returning to the stage after 20 years makes actress feel 'nauseous'

News
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
property
News
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK wedding show jilted
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Student
The Guildhall School of Music and Drama is to offer a BA degree in Performance and Creative Enterprise
student

Top conservatoire offers ‘groundbreaking’ arts degree

Sport
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Voices
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SEN Teaching Assistant Runcorn

£50 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant EBD , Septemb...

Recruitment Consultant - Soho - IT, Pharma, Public Sector

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35,000 first year: SThree: The SThree group i...

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week